I can remember a time when every diver I knew was afraid of sharks, and I'm not really that old. Really. I can even remember the controversy caused when a shark first appeared on the cover of a dive magazine. There was an upheaval in the dive community because they thought that image would end the sport. Now, sharks on the covers are bestsellers. But more than that, thanks to a handful of pioneers who kept telling us that sharks are beautiful, that they don't want to mindlessly eat us, and why don't you jump in and see for yourself, diving with sharks has become so mainstream that seemingly everyone has done the shark feed from the Duchess of York to supermodel Heidi Klum to Dan Rather to, literally, thousands of other divers. And the Bahamas hands-down rules the world of shark diving.
I recently returned from a quick trip to New Providence, Long Island, Grand Bahama and Andros, where each experience, though different in approach, ripples with that electric tinge caused by any kind of frenzy, especially so while watching a pack of apex predators push and shove for their fair share.
Off New Providence, Stuart Cove's shark feeds bring in the crowds. Dozens of Caribbean reef sharks swirl, bump and grind around a chain-mail-clad diver who hand-feeds the sharks with a pole spear in about 40 feet of water. It's 30 minutes of pucker-inducing tension as the sharks come as close as you can imagine. There's also a big grouper that likes to sit in the laps of divers while waiting to pounce. This is where Hollywood comes when it wants sharks, and Stuart Cove's never fails to exceed the thrill expectation. The frenzy is controlled tension, like a Hollywood thriller.
About 30 minutes south of the out island of Long Island, Stella Maris has a shark feed that is as wild as they come. The sharks here are less tolerant than at other shark feeds and consider anything in the water column fair game, so stick to the sand and listen to the divemasters. Once we all got in place, it was like experiencing a full-on train wreck at turbo speed. A can full of fish parts gets tossed into the water and the dozen or so reef sharks slam and crunch into the food with the fury of a tornado. You can hear the crunching as if it's right next to your ear. Then, in about two minutes, there's nothing left but the quickly diminishing scent of fish.
Off Andros Small Hope Bay and Kamalame Cay an island that feels like you've arrived at the edge of the Earth and Grand Bahama (UNEXSO), the sharks are subjected to ice-cream headaches induced by a frozen chumsicle of fish parts. The chumsicle is suspended midwater and the sharks are forced to tear and rip off tapas-size chunks a bit at a time. With this technique the tension builds and builds to a full-on explosion of teeth and fins as the chumsicle defrosts.
In a world where we're always looking over the horizon for our next great adventure, the Bahamas reminds us that some of the best adventures in the world await us practically in our backyard.